Microtrace Presents at Inter/Micro 2024

Next week, microscopists from around the world will gather in Chicago for Inter/Micro 2024- the premier international microscopy conference. Six Microtrace scientists will present papers during the symposium, which runs from Tuesday, June 11th through Friday, June 14th. The Microtrace talks cover topics including artbiological fluidssoilsfibers, microplastics, and pharmaceuticals. The papers also cover analytical methods spanning light and electron microscopy (SEM)infrared microspectroscopyenergy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (EDS)Raman microspectroscopy, and microchemistry. This breadth of topics illustrates the versatility of our approach and the range of our laboratory’s experience and expertise.

Microtrace talks include:

  • Comparison of Soil Color Determination Methods (Ethan Groves)
  • Foreign Particles in Pharmaceuticals: A Holistic, Pharm-to-Table Approach (Kelly Brinsko Beckert)
  • Microplastics, Macro Problems: Method Development Considerations for Routine, Objective Microplastic Analyses (Otyllia Vercelletto)
  • A Collection of Historical Polarizing (Petrological and Petrographic) Microscopes and Accessories (Skip Palenik)
  • Lessons in Fiber Chemistry (Jason C. Beckert)
  • Surgery and Foreign Matter: The Role of Microanalysis in Identification and Source Determination (Christopher S. Palenik)

Research presentations given during the first two days will cover techniques and instrumentation, environmental and industrial microscopy, and forensic and chemical microscopy.

All abstracts for Inter/Micro presentations can be found here.


Since its beginning in 1948, Inter/Micro has grown to attract microscopists, both amateur and professional, from all areas of light and electron microscopy. Recognized internationally, this meeting is now held every year in Chicago and continues to be sponsored and hosted by McCrone Research Institute.

The first Microscopy Symposium on Electron and Light Microscopy was developed by Walter C. McCrone (light microscopist in chemistry) and Charles Tufts (electron microscopist in physics) and was held June 10-12, 1948 at the Stevens Hotel, now the Hilton Chicago. The Inter/Micro symposia are believed to be the very first meetings to gather top people in light and electron microscopy together to discuss very small particles, including the range of ultrafine particles that are commonly referred to today as “nanoparticles.”

More details about the conference can be found here.


Comparison of Soil Color Determination Methods. Ethan Groves (presenting author) and Christopher S. Palenik, Ph.D.

Color is often the first characteristic observed in a soil characterization. At the start of a forensic comparison, soil colors are evaluated to determine whether the two samples can be excluded as originating from a common source or if additional analysis to evaluate this possibility is warranted. Soil color determination is often accomplished by visual examination and manual comparison to standard color chips. However, additional methods include spectrophotometric measurement or image processing. Color data for a set of 180 soils from North Carolina were determined using each of these three methods. This presentation will discuss benefits and limitations of each approach, evaluate differences between them, and demonstrate the discriminating power of color as it applies to forensic soil comparisons.

Foreign Particles in Pharmaceuticals: A Holistic, Pharm-to-Table Approach. Kelly Brinsko Beckert

The identification and sourcing of foreign particles in pharmaceutical products is a critical part of quality control for any drug company, but many lack the resources to 1) isolate and 2) identify these often very small particles. Our laboratory receives and analyzes a number of such particles every year, and they can be found in a plethora of pharmaceutical matrices, including tablets, capsules, gels, liquid-filled vials, glass cartridges, dermal patches, medical devices, and raw materials, to name a few. In a series of illustrative case studies, this talk will discuss some of our techniques for particle isolation from challenging samples, the subsequent analysis and identification of the foreign particles, and their comparison to potential source materials.

Microplastics, Macro Problems: Method Development Considerations for Routine, Objective Microplastic Analyses. Otyllia Vercelletto (presenting author) and Christopher S. Palenik, Ph.D.

Microplastics (MPs) represent an ever-evolving field of study with an immense body of literature to address this growing global concern. Despite this body of literature, the development and implementation of a routine microplastics workflow for real-world samples is often thwarted by limitations that arise regarding MP isolation, detection, identification, and/or quantitation. To overcome the complexities associated with MP isolation and analysis from dirty matrices, we attempt to adapt and borrow from the strengths of existing literature in pursuit of an approach that is holistic, objective, and time-conscious.

The approach we have arrived at consists of three parts, namely particle isolation and cleanup, automated analysis, and data interpretation. Our work has been honed using real-world water and sediment samples from the Milwaukee area in collaboration with the USGS. This presentation will discuss method development for large-scale routine MP analysis, validation efforts, and complexities encountered along the way.

A Collection of Historical Polarizing (Petrological and Petrographic) Microscopes and Accessories. Skip Palenik

I have been interested in the microscope as analytical instrument since I received my first one on my eighth birthday. That Gilbert microscope set included a set of polarizers (Polaroid Jr.), and thus I learned to appreciate the benefits of polarized light from my earliest introduction to and experiments in analytical microscopy and microanalysis. As is the case still today, a polarizing microscope then, as now, was beyond the reach of a child and it wasn’t until much later that I acquired my first monocular polarizing microscope — a gift from my soon to be employer, Dr. Walter C. McCrone — when I returned home from my hitch in military intelligence in the mid-1960s.

It was at this time, shortly after going to work for my boyhood hero, that I had the opportunity to buy my first polarizing microscope. This was a beautiful, brass, Bausch & Lomb monocular, and my family and I were unhappy with the deal for different reasons: 1) I had to sell the Rogers drum set that I had played in my band (Strangeways) before I enlisted, 2) it did not have a Bertrand lens, 3) it became the cornerstone of my collection of antique and vintage polarizing microscopes, and 4) it was the beginning of an expensive hobby.

This presentation will introduce the audience to a few of the microscopes, accessories and slides that comprise this collection in the hope that Inter/Micro attendees may find them of some interest with respect to both their beauty and utility. The instruments chosen for this presentation have been selected based on their appearance and importance for the gradual development and improvement of the polarizing microscope over time.

Lessons in Fiber Chemistry. Jason C. Beckert

This presentation will focus on a forensic fiber comparison that was part of a double homicide investigation and prosecution. It will discuss aspects of the case from fiber searching and collection through laboratory analysis and, ultimately, testimony. The laboratory analysis was performed without any case-specific contextual information, as is sometimes recommended, certainly, by various members of the criminal justice system. Despite some initial difficulties, the comparison was completed and indicated a strong association between the questioned and known fibers. However, once the context surrounding the fibers was revealed, this question remained: what is the ultimate significance of the association?

Surgery and Foreign Matter: The Role of Microanalysis in Identification and Source Determination. Christopher S. Palenik, Ph.D.

Over the past 30-plus years, Microtrace has investigated numerous cases involving foreign matter and suspected foreign matter recovered from the human body during surgery. These have included foreign matter from eyes, posteriors, abdomens, gastrointestinal tracts, and lungs, among other parts of the body. The recovered substances have included 1) surgical materials that were unintentionally left in a patient during surgery, 2) contamination introduced with surgical devices or the surgical environment, 3) unintentionally ingested materials or respired particles that required surgical removal, and 4) fistulas that have let undigested substances into incompatible areas of the body. Through examples from our casework, this presentation will discuss the role that microanalysis has played in identifying these often heavily degraded items. After identifying an item, there is typically a subsequent request to determine, or at least place constraints on, the source or point of origin of the identified material. We have approached this question through a formal forensic comparison, when potential source materials are available. In other instances, when source materials are not available, the characteristics determined by microanalysis can be used from the beginning to identify or constrain a source.

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